What would you do if your fate was to marry a large talking bull? Most people would probably refuse. But in the Scottish fairy tale The Black Bull of Norroway, a courageous young woman decides to follow the bull on an epic adventure. The empowering tale of a young woman’s courage, dark magic, and fascinating characters comes to life in Cat and Kit Seaton’s NORROWAY BOOK ONE: THE BLACK BULL OF NORROWAY from Image Comics. The Seaton sisters tap into the heart of the mysterious fairy tale. Their young heroine Sibylla faces the difficult choice: change her life and marry a bull, or stay at home and miss out on adventure. Cat’s script highlights each character’s personality and Kit’s skillfully draws the fabulous Sybilla, her bull fiance, and his enchanting family. ComicsVerse is grateful to Kit Seaton for talking to us about how her thrilling fairy tale adaptation.

[Please note: Portions of this interview have been lightly edited for clarity.]

NORROWAY by Cat and Kit Seaton
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

ComicsVerse (CV): Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your wonderful new series, NORROWAY. Can you tell readers what the series is about?

Kit Seaton (KS): Sibylla Tibbon is a peasant girl longing for adventure, growing up in a boring provincial town called Goose Valley. She goes with her sisters to see the forest witch and get her fortune told. She is told that she will be betrothed to a fearsome cursed knight called The Black Bull of Norroway. This unnerves her a bit, but she decides it is ultimately unlikely, and it turns out to be a convenient excuse to avoid marrying any of the village boys. She’s independent, but not really going anywhere. One day the monstrous bull comes to collect his bride. Sibylla has to choose between staying in her nowhere town, answering the call fate has made for her, or forging a new, potentially scarier path of her own.

CV: THE BLACK BULL OF NORROWAY is based on a wonderful and strange Scottish fairy tale about a young woman whose destiny is to marry a very special bull. Can you tell us what inspired you to turn the story into a comic?

KS: We started wanting to adapt a similar fairy tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, back in late 2013. While we were researching the project we realized it had already been adapted multiple times. We decided we wanted to find another fairy tale that had fewer adaptations but had similar themes. Cat had taken a storytelling class in her final semester of college, and The Black Bull of Norroway was one she had collected. It had the themes we were looking for, and it canonically has the girl apprenticing as a blacksmith. Cat was sold on it, and so was I. We thought we could have a lot of fun adapting it.

CV: Fairy tales are a popular genre. Do you think comics help make these tales more accessible?

KS: We grew up reading fairy tales, and we thought they would be a good place to start a collaboration because they are so accessible. Comics are unique as a storytelling medium because of how words, pictures, and actions work together to create meaning. Comics, if we think of them in the form they are today, are a relatively new medium, close to around the same age as film. Fairy tales also show up in comics quite a bit; PRINCE VALIANT, Disney Comics, ASTERIX, and FABLES to name a few. There are many other comics that take elements from fairy tales to craft entirely new narratives, or give them a more updated setting. We liked examining an old medium (fairy tales) through the process of a new medium (comics) and observing how that affected the subtext, characters, and pacing.

Comics are also great for setting a mood and building tension. It may be an old trick, but I like to put the closure panel on the page following the second to last beat of a scene. Not always a cliffhanger, just a need to know moment that compels the reader to turn the page.

Comics are an ongoing negotiation between the story and the reader. Immersion for the reader is really important, so there has to be a pay off, there needs to be fun surprises, and there does have to be a sense of continuity and closure for the reader to understand what they read. This is one of the most challenging aspects of working in the medium that has taken me the longest to learn. Fairy tales have a logic to them that you can build a structure around, but malleable enough to build a world that people might want to spend some time in. Then there was the matter of seeing what the comics medium could do with that structure, and learning what works and what doesn’t along the way.

NORROWAY by Cat and Kit Seaton
Image courtesy of Image Comics.

CV: Of course, your interpretation varies from the original fairy tale a little. In particular, you have included more women and even a non-binary character. Why did this matter to you?

KS: It’s so important for us to see ourselves in the stories we consume. Women exist, non-binary people exist. We all deserve to have our stories told, and the opportunity to tell our stories in our own voices.

CV: Fairy tales are not always the most empowering to young women. However, THE BLACK BULL OF NORROWAY is squarely focused on Sibylla and gives her a lot of agency. Is this something you found to be true of the fairy tale, or is this your and your sister’s own take on the story?

KS: What we liked about this particular fairy tale is that most of the cast that drive the action in the story are women. You have the witch/fortune teller, the girl’s sisters, the troll queen and her daughter. It’s also canon that the girl goes to her fate without fear. She apprentices and becomes a blacksmith over the course of seven years. She climbs a mountain in shoes she made herself and doesn’t just let the prince off easy for it. She’s the hero of the tale with a courageous heart and therefore she rescues him. Within the subtext there are definitely questions worth asking, things that we are asking ourselves and seeking to address in our own adaptation as we develop the trilogy. For us, that mostly involves what motivates Sibylla, and propels her through the story.

CV: If I’m getting this right, your sister, Cat Seaton, wrote the adaptation for NORROWAY and you illustrated the comic. However, you both have worked on many independent creative projects. Did you enjoy working on a comic together?

KS: We’re incredibly lucky in that we realize what the other person has and we value and cultivate that in each other. We spend an unholy amount of time on the phone. Probably everything would be a lot easier for us if we lived close to each other. But, as that isn’t an option right now, we’ll chat for three or four hours once a week. A lot of the process is done separately, but we’ll discuss everything. Cat writes a script and sends it to me to read, and then we’ll talk about it. Do these choices work? How does this fit into the overall arc of the story? What motivated this action or character choice? Then Cat goes back and edits. Eventually, a script will emerge that we’re both happy with. But she’s with me every part of the way, we’re discussing everything, we both have a pretty clear idea of what things are going to look like.

Distance is our biggest bump for sure. We don’t want to be hours and hours apart. But we’re making it work. We get along pretty well. We did most of our arguing and sniping at each other when we were little kids, so we have a good idea about what makes the other one mad, and how best to apologize. I think it helps that we’re both really passionate and excited about this project. It has helped us stay connected, and it’s really about just how much we enjoy what the other sibling does. Neither one of us has hesitations, and when they do come up, we talk about them, and we can usually resolve it together.

Image courtesy of Image Comics.

CV: All the characters have very strong voices and unique personalities. What was it like developing the character designs to compliment Cat’s writing? Did you collaborate on the character design?

KS: Cat’s writing process is interesting. She doesn’t really visualize the characters or the stage, it’s more like a radio play in her head. So she has to work in near silence to concentrate. She leaves a lot of the framing, environments, and characters up to me. This does give me a lot of creative control, but it is informed by our conversations and her script. We will create mood boards and collect reference, and she will give me direction if I ask for it. Mostly we just talk it through, I’ll design a few concepts, we’ll go from there.

For me, the action plays in my head a bit more like a film than a radio play. I usually make details a little too complicated and I always relearn that when I get to paneling. Sometimes I’ll make a final decision when I get to the layouts and figure out what will actually work best in the context of the scene. So the design provides the context, and then I figure out a shorthand in the pages.

CV: Other than the fairy tale itself, who or what are some of your creative influences?

KS: I think the things that inspire us are often invisible in the final product. The Studio Ghibli film PRINCESS MONONOKE was an inspiration for Cat writing this book, for its themes and narrative structure. I went back and looked at a lot of classical illustrators for inspiration; John Bauer, Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Harry Clarke, and Jessie Wilcox Smith.

I also thought a lot about The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, a painting by Richard Dadd. It presented images of fairies in a sort of organized chaos that stuck with me. Fairies in folklore are mercurial and vindictive. They can be magnanimous benefactors, and then turn on an instant and punish you in ways so cruel and inventive it borders on hilarity. The capriciousness and the supernatural otherness of fairies is perfectly captured in that painting by Dadd. Does it show up in my art? When I think of the nature of fairies and fairy tales I always think of that painting. So it may be there. I don’t know.

CV: Other than NORROWAY, are you working on any other projects you can tell us about?

KS: For now, Cat and I are focusing on the other books planned for NORROWAY. We have many other ideas on the back burner we hope to get to someday. There are other things coming on the horizon for us, and hopefully we can announce them soon!

NORROWAY BOOK ONE: THE BLACK BULL OF NORROWAY by Cat Seaton and Kit Seaton will be available here on November 7th!

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